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Scenes from Spring Training: The Diamondbacks and Rockies are impossibly spoiled

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I am writing this in the press box of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (note: here’s an explanation for that name).  I’ve been here a little over three hours, and I still haven’t wrapped my brain around it all.

The complex sits on the far northeast side of town next to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. I had saved driving directions to the joint in my phone, but I needn’t have bothered because you can see it from the freeway, miles away.  “Just drive northeast out of Phoenix until you see it jutting out from the horizon” would have been specific enough.

Driving into the complex grounds, one is immediately reminded that it’s brand new.  There were workers planting decorative cacti along the driveway and bolting up signage around the park.  Inside, there were wet paint signs on the railings along the concourses and a man barked into his walkie talkie to underlings that some unidentified installation was not how it was supposed to be and that it better get fixed before fans started arriving.  But there was nothing frantic about any of it. One gets the distinct sense that this place was well-planned and will be shipshape and in Bristol fashion when the first game is played on Saturday.

The team facilities are large and impossibly well-appointed. The Diamonbacks’ headquarters are beyond the left field wall, the Rockies’ beyond the right.  With one exception, the facilities are mirror images of each other, each housing 85,000 square feet — yes, 85,000 square feet — of training, meeting, working, swimming, and loitering space.  The one exception: the Diamondbacks thought to put a media room in their building. The Rockies neglected that detail, much to the chagrin of the scribes covering the Rockies, but I suppose the media will survive.

When I got here this morning the Rockies’ clubhouse was closed so I went over to the Arizona side. You may remember that last year I was greeted warmly by some teams, not as warmly by others.  The Diamondbacks are off the scale on the warm side. Security guards may as well have been concierges. The Dbacks’ media relations people were so accommodating that I feel like I need to buy them thank you gifts.  They pointed me in the direction of the clubhouse and the training fields and off I went.

They probably need a new word to describe the place where the players dress, because “clubhouse” doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like an upscale lounge, with indirect lighting emanating from a glowing Dbacks logo in the ceiling, thick red carpeting and handsome wooden lockers. There are video boards displaying the day’s workout plan. Players lounged in comfortable arm chairs, playing cards, eating, reading or, in a couple of cases, sleeping, all in perfect luxury. Were it not for the telltale smell of smokeless tobacco you’d never know you were in a locker room.

I made some smalltalk with a few Diamondbacks players. All of them gave off a vibe that things are very, very different on this team than it was before. Maybe part of it was the new facility, but mostly it comes down to Kirk Gibson being in charge in camp for the first time. Each player I spoke with either used the word “professional” or strongly suggested it.  Gibson isn’t just a hard nosed guy. He and his high-profile coaching staff –Don Baylor, Matt Williams, Eric Young, Charles Nagy and Alan Trammell are all walking around — have these guys believing in themselves.

Is it a valid belief?  Well, I haven’t broken down their chances yet, but I assume not. Just not enough talent here yet to compete with the rest of the NL West over the long haul of the regular season.  But boy will they be comfortable during the short haul of spring training.

I’m heading out to the practice fields. It’s way too damn nice here to be cooped up in a press box.

Video: Nomar Mazara crushes a 491-foot home run

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 27:  Nomar Mazara #30 of the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on April 27, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Rangers rookie outfielder Nomar Mazara crushed the longest home run of the season to date, according to Statcast, with a 491-foot shot to the upper deck in right field against the Angels on Wednesday afternoon. With the bases empty and no outs in the second inning, Angels lefty Hector Santiago threw a 1-1 off-speed pitch, which did not fool Mazara in the slightest.

Statcast measured it at 491 feet. Giancarlo Stanton previously had the longest home run at 475 feet off of Hector Neris on May 6. Franklin Gutierrez hit a 491-foot shot on Saturday against Reds pitcher John Lamb.

Mazara entered the afternoon hitting a terrific .317/.364/.483 with seven home runs and 18 RBI in 162 plate appearances.

Blue Jays activate Devon Travis from the disabled list

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 22: Devon Travis #29 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates scoring a run in the third inning against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on July 22, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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The Blue Jays announced on Wednesday afternoon that the club has activated second baseman Devon Travis from the disabled list. To create roster space, ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte has been optioned to Triple-A Buffalo.

Travis, 25, last played on July 28 last year. He battled a shoulder injury for which he would undergo season-ending surgery. He burst onto the scene as a productive rookie, batting .304/.361/.498 with eight home runs and 35 RBI in 239 plate appearances before being sidelined.

Thus far, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney have handled second base for the most part for the Jays. But the club has gotten a meager .585 OPS out of the position, the lowest mark in the league. The return of Travis should be quite a boon. He is batting eighth in Wednesday night’s lineup against the Yankees.

Adam Wainwright is not a fan of the proposed strike zone changes

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6 to 1 in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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It’s probably not a big shocker that a pitcher is not a big fan of the strike zone being made smaller, but Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he is not a fan of the proposed changes to the strike zone we wrote about recently, calling the proposal “a horrible, horrible idea.”

Horrible, he acknowledges, because he’s a pitcher with a vested interest so, yes, let’s give Wainwright credit for self-awareness and for disclosing his self-interest. But he thinks it’s a bad idea for another reason too: more hits will lead to more balls in the gap and thus longer games.

I get the intuitive nature of that — the longer it takes to retire a side the longer games go — but it doesn’t necessarily follow that offense and game times are related in the way Wainwright implies. There was a lot more scoring in the 1990s and early 2000s and games were actually shorter then than now. Partially because of other factors (i.e. there were not quite as many pitching changes and because guys played at a faster clip). Partially, I suspect, because there were fewer strikeouts and strikeouts take a longer time than guys grounding out or having some of those balls in the gap caught on the run by a fast outfielder.

As I said last week, I suspect that we’ll see fewer balls in the gap than Wainwright implies and, rather, a lot more walks as pitchers test umpires to see if they’re really taking away that low strike. In the short term that’ll actually make games longer, though not for the reason Wainwright thinks.

 

 

Report: Jonny Gomes has retired

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Jonny Gomes of the Kansas City Royals looks on before Game Two of the 2015 World Series between the Royals and the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo hears from a source that former major leaguer Jonny Gomes has decided to retire from baseball. The 35-year-old spent the 2016 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japan Pacific League, but he struggled at the plate, batting .169/.280/.246 in 75 plate appearances. Gomes left the Eagles by mutual consent back on May 11.

Gomes won a championship with the Red Sox in 2013 and the Royals last year. He ends a 13-year major league career having hit .242/333/.436 with 162 home runs in 4,009 trips to the plate.

Gomes was known as a clubhouse leader during his playing career, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up coaching or managing in some capacity in the future.